Even though he died of a ripe age, Nigeria, nay the world, mourns the death of the man who added value to mankind. Professor Chinua Achebe, who died roughly 75 hours ago in faraway United States, has ceased to exist in flesh but his works, his books, his thoughts will live forever. Since he survived an accident 22 years ago that confined him to the physical pains of the wheelchair, he had not exactly been in good health, but he had been of good cheer, occasionally granting interviews and even taking time to continue his writings.
The world’s major bookshops have Achebe’s books. I should know because I have literally frisked bookshops in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, South Africa, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Dubai, South Korea, China, India, Abu Dhabi, Spain, Canada and the United States – all of them have Achebe’s works. It is remarkable that even while it might be difficult to find some good books that are merely five years old in many western bookshops, Achebe’s first book, Things Fall Apart, which he wrote 55 years ago still graces the shelves of all major bookshops around the world. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was spot on when he described Achebe as Africa’s greatest literary export. The news of Achebe’s passing was broken by the world’s media including several cable networks and we’re still reeling from the shock.
Professor Achebe never pandered to any government in power. When some clowns were busy lying to themselves that former president Olusegun Obasanjo was the best thing that had happened to Nigeria, he angrily rejected the national award of CFR, saying that he would not accept an award from a government that had messed up the country. Ditto for President Goodluck Jonathan’s CFR greek gift. And this is a country where people go to great lengths to get such awards including paying bribes occasionally. Achebe never needed a CFR for validation. His works had done that for him.
People who confine Professor Achebe to the status of an Igbo local champion have been greatly unkind to the man and they deprive Nigeria and indeed the African continent of a hero. The well-written joint statement of professors JP Clark and Wole Soyinka did just that when it needlessly insinuated that Achebe’s death might have been hastened by “the recent insensate massacre of Chinua’s people in Kano…” If there was an iota of truth in that at all, it is the death of Nigerians as a whole in the face and grip of an incompetent leadership that gets worse by the day that might have quickened his death. When Achebe rejected the awards from both presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan, it was not because they fouled up the Igbo nation; it was because they had fouled up and are continuing the destruction of the Nigerian nation with their brand of leadership. Besides, it is cheap to reduce Nigeria’s current terrorism crisis to that between north and south, Christian and Muslim or Igbo and the north. It is much more serious than that. We must never tell the blood-thirsty hoodlums what they want to hear. It is probably because some people in power choose to see it this way that has made the problem intractable so far. Achebe’s The Trouble With Nigeria shows clearly that he preferred to be a Nigerian. Those who want to be ethnic jingoists should leave Nigeria and go back to their villages. They should leave Nigeria for us.
Having said all that, it must also be added that Achebe’s last book, There Was a Country, fell short of the standard expected of him. Maybe he should have restricted himself to fiction because that was the first time he was delving into history and he did so badly. There were several factual errors and very wrong interpretations of contexts. But that wrong book alone will not be enough to deny Professor Achebe his rightful place in the history of Nigeria. I am one of those who still believe that Chinua Achebe more than deserved a Nobel Prize. He has played his part. And it was a very big part. It is time for him to rest; may he rest in perfect peace. His works shall live forever.